Business people from Gwent have given a mixed response to an announcement from the Lib Dems that they would scrap the tolls on the two Severn crossings if they got into power in next year's general election.

Currently car drivers have to pay £6.40 to cross either the Severn Bridge or Second Severn Crossing into Wales. This rises to £12.80 for small commercial vehicles and £19.20 for larger commercial vehicles.

The two bridges are operated by Severn River Crossing, a private company and are forecast to transfer to public ownership in 2018.

Business Argus has asked local business people if they thought scrapping the tolls was a good idea:

Dan Smith, M4 Property Consultants, Newport

As commercial property consultants we deal with a number of industrial businesses who are considering South Wales versus other locations. While South Wales is often considered a strategic location to serve Wales, the south west of England and the Midlands, the tolls are often considered as a barrier to business. Therefore, removing them can only assist the local economy and provide the potential of new jobs in the area. However, equally important is the need for the M4 relief road to be undertaken as congestion is the other major concern these companies are concerned about.

Noel Williams, managing partner, Kilsby & Williams Accountants, Newport

The Severn Bridge is a significant contributor to government revenue with VAT, payroll and corporate taxes being paid in quantity. It employs many people from the principality in the collection of its revenue. It costs less than a tank of petrol to use and saves much more than this against alternative routes. Does it restrict or significantly affect trade and employment in Wales? I think not. There are many much bigger barriers to trade self-imposed by the Welsh Government – high rates, poor health services and education, to name a few. And if it becomes free to cross the bridge, where will the lost revenue come from to pay for the already inadequate services on offer in Wales? This is just electioneering with little thought of the consequences.

Terry Edgell, executive director, Premier Forest Products, Newport

Having not paid a lot of attention to this issue in the past, this question prompted me to dig deeper into the relevant departments in my business and I am now in a state of shock! The full cost of the Severn Bridge tolls to my business for our Newport and Bristol depots alone, for our lorries and our sales rep cars, is well in excess of £100,000 a year. This is a massive over-looked burden to the Premier Forest Group’s local businesses and one that puts them at a significant disadvantage in a timber sector that sees its products as a relatively low value commodity. It is easy to see what percentage impact the tolls are having on our group turnover, which is currently approaching £100m, but drilled down to the local sites and against gross margin it is frightening. Operationally, our logistics departments avoid the bridge at all opportunities, but this then is at a cost to efficiency, speed and time – so is not always an option.

I support the Lib Dem proposal 100 per cent as the toll at current rates is effectively a prohibitive tax on business and individuals trading and living in Wales. I accept there is a cost to operating the bridge and that it is fair that these costs have to be recovered in some shape or form by its users rather than the general public, but by the looks of things the Premier Forest Group alone is paying the salaries of a fair few of the Severn Bridge workers!

Ed Gooderham, Green & Co Accountants and Tax Advisors, Cwmbran

This is a big issue as many businesses decide to relocate to the England side of the bridge because of the toll fees. If the tolls were removed this would make the Gwent area more appealing and reduce one tax on the welsh economy.

Kate Thomas, partner, HardingEvans Solicitors, Newport

There is perhaps a perception that the tolls on the Severn Bridge into Wales impact upon the Welsh side more than the English side. Certainly the current level of the tolls could potentially be a barrier to investment in Wales. The number of individuals prepared to visit Wales or to commute between England and Wales for the purposes of their employment may also be affected. Indeed if the tolls are not scrapped following the ending of the concession to Severn Rivers Crossing PLC in 2017, then it may appear that a ‘tax’ exists for entering Wales which potentially would be prejudicial to the Welsh economy. It may therefore be the case that scrapping the tolls would make Wales, and particularly Gwent, more accessible which would in turn boost the economy. However, this needs to be balanced against the possible negative impact of increased traffic particularly around Newport and the Brynglas Tunnels which already struggles to cope with the number of vehicles currently using the M4 and the potential adverse effect this would have on the residents and businesses of Gwent. Resources would need to be made available to assess and deal with this potential pitfall to ensure that the stretch of motorway through Gwent does not become a traffic blackspot which may ultimately in turn deter investors a, commuters and tourists.

John Newell, Kingston Newell Estate Agents, Newport

Scrapping the tolls could have a considerable impact on the Newport housing market. House prices in the city are considerable cheaper than their equivalents in Bristol and Cardiff. People with jobs over the border are put off by the tolls even though they would be able to afford larger properties if they lived in Newport. There is a stigma attached to having to pay the toll each day. If tolls were to be scrapped what would happen to the house prices? Would demand from home buyers from across the border be strong enough to become another economic factor pushing up the house prices in Newport? We’re only 30 mins away from Bristol city centre, personally I think it might have an impact.

Gareth Jones, director, Audere Medical Services Limited, Usk

Yes the tolls should be scrapped as they are seen by many as a tax to do business in Wales and they cause horrendous traffic jams at peak times leaving visitors and residents to Wales equally annoyed and frustrated. I fully appreciate the maintenance of the bridges are imperative for the safety of the users but other methods of financing this could be investigated. Scrapping the tolls would mean that the planned relief road will have to happen as I foresee a significant increase in the number of cars using the M4 in south east Wales.

Vince Taylor, director, Kinetic Workplace Design, Usk

Nobody likes paying tolls, so if there is an option not too I’m sure it will prove to be very popular. Due to the frequency of my travels to and from London for meetings, I have a TAG so trying to find the right change or getting stuck in the toll queues isn’t a problem - although the tongue in cheek question is frequently asked by clients in London about how much the toll has been increased to this month! Getting rid of the toll will help the Gwent economy. Bristol is on our doorstep and is a thriving city, the tolls are a barrier and removing them will increase the amount of business taking place back and for across the bridges.

Denise Lovering, chairman of the Welsh Council of the Freight Transport Association and commercial director, Glenside Commercials, Bedwas:

With no tolls on the Severn crossings, commuters would be better off and businesses would see an increase in profits immediately. Traffic would flow more freely and there would be the possibility of an increase in tourism and more chance of attracting new business to the area, both of which would bring a boost to Gwent and South Wales in general. However great the appeal of no more tolls, there is one huge hurdle to overcome and that is that the Severn crossings are governed by an Act of Parliament. The Act dictates the point at which the crossings revert back to the state, and also allows for the Secretary of State to continue tolling for a period of five years after that – in order to recoup money spent on prevention of corrosion, maintenance and other costs. However, this amount is now thought to be in the region of £80m to £85m and as the tolls taken last year amounted to £104m, in reality this ‘debt’ should be paid off in less than one year. Something else to be considered should the tolls be scrapped, is where the money for the maintenance is to come from. At present this is in the region of £14m per annum…

Guy Jones, NatWest's director of commercial banking for Cardiff and East Wales:

When the Severn Bridge is passed to government control, I do believe the tolls should be scrapped. The argument to retain a toll structure to cover government debt and maintenance costs appears ill founded when compared to other major UK infrastructure costs and would be an unfair tax on the Welsh economy and SME businesses in particular. The capital costs of the bridge will have been paid at the end of the current agreement and maintenance costs should be considered in the same vein as other national road schemes.

Richard Selby, co-founder and director at Pro Steel Engineering, Langstone

As a company based in Newport with a client base largely in London, it would be great to see the toll scrapped, but I think it is a romantic idea that would be difficult for a government to carry out. Bridges all require maintenance and this costs significant sums of money, which I believe should be subsidised by its users to a certain extent. Perhaps reducing the cost with a taxpayer subsidy would be more realistic?

Graham Morgan, director of the South Wales Chamber of Commerce:

The removal of tolls on the Severn crossings seems to be an impractical pledge, especially given that the annual maintenance cost is around £15m. It begs the questions of where is the Treasury going to find this extra money? The main industry affected is haulage companies, or organisations operating commercial vehicles, and we believe this is something that needs to be addressed if organisations are going to locate here in Wales. The government should certainly look at significantly reducing the toll charges for commercial vehicles so that Wales has the same opportunities to attract inward investment as other parts of the UK. There has been murmurings that reducing, or removing, the tolls would make it easier for people to commute to work in Bristol, but surely people should be encouraged to use more sustainable modes of transport, such as the train, rather than essentially introducing an incentive for more people to get into their cars? However, reducing or removing the toll during low peak travel times, for example during the middle of the night, would be beneficial as the volume of traffic is so low that it may cost more to have staff manning the toll booths than the amount of money taken.